Monday, October 24, 2011

The Interactive Rug Loom

It's actually *not* closet cleaning season right now... but I have relevant news to share for this project done some time ago, so please allow me to introduce you to The Interactive Rug Loom!

The Interactive Rug Loom was recently featured just outside the Make Shop at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh during Pittsburgh's First Mini Maker Faire on Sunday October 23!  Check out a photo of the loom in action at the Faire here, and browse some of the other Faire action shots here, here and here.  A great time was had by all!

I must add to this post with a note that this is *not* originally my idea.  I saw one of these giant looms in action at Maker Faire Detroit in 2010, brought by the fabulous makers at GreenSheep!  They're true artists and pros at repurposing natural fibers!

I came home after Maker Faire Detroit, and proceeded to daydream for a while about having a giant loom of my very own.  A few months later and I was well underway, thanks to a little help and tool resources at HackPittsburgh!

Here's how I made mine, if you'd like to make one of your own!  This can, of course, be scaled down - a 6' x 4' loom isn't exactly the easiest thing to find a home for - but those measurements are on you :)

Here's what you need:
* Enough 1x3 board to cut two 6' lengths and two 4' lengths
* 4 "L" brackets and installation screws
* 224 #8x 2" construction screws, the kind with the top 1/2" smooth
* Drill
* Measuring tool (ruler, yardstick, etc.)
* Table saw or mitre box and handsaw

Here's what to do:
* Step 1: Cut your boards to the appropriate lengths.  In my case, I cut them down to two 6' and two 4' boards.
* Step 2: Cut your board ends at 45 degree angles using your table saw or mitre box and handsaw.  Remember that the two ends will be at opposite angles to create a frame.
* Step 3: Match up your corners, and attach your "L" brackets on the back of the corners to create the frame.
* Step 4: Measure and mark your screw placements.  I placed my screws 1" apart.
* Step 5: Drill pilot holes where you've marked.
* Step 6: Insert all screws in pilot holes and screw into place.

*** NOTE: These steps are outlined exactly as I put them together.  Since this was my first loom, and I didn't have any instructions (only a mental image), it may be easier for you to drill and place your screws before putting the frame together with "L" brackets.  Your choice.  
The finished loom!

Now, to weave on the loom.  Since this loom isn't exactly "small", you need a lot of material to fill it up.  My favorite materials to use are wool sweaters and t-shirts.  Simply cut your sweaters or t-shirts from the bottom up, horizontally, front and back at the same time, to create loops.  I usually stop at the arms and use the remains for other projects. 

Sweaters are a little trickier, but in general, if you purchase men's XL t-shirts, one loop stretched will cross the loom horizontally, and two loops together will cross the loom vertically.  I cut my strips (both sweater and t-shirt) in approximately 1" width.

The first rug created on this loom was 100% wool sweaters from Goodwill.  I will warn you - this loom requires an amazing amount of material to properly fill it.  By my estimate, the first sweater rug needed 45 sweaters to complete it.  If you have sweaters you're looking to get rid of, you're all set - but if you're shopping at Goodwill, please expect to pay ~$300 to finish your rug.  (Don't get me wrong, the finished product is really beautiful!)

T-shirts are a little easier on the wallet, and more readily available year-round.  It takes about 35 t-shirts to finish off a rug on this loom.  At about $2 / t-shirt, that's a much more wallet-friendly ~$70.  It will look great, of course, but not as luxurious as the wool version.

To weave, I find it's easiest to install the vertical strips first.  Simply loop one end over the top screw, pull down, and pull the bottom of the loop over the corresponding screw at the bottom of the frame.

Once all vertical loops are installed, it's time to weave!  Start by placing one end of your loop over the first screw.  Go over the first vertical strip, under the second, over the third, under the fourth, and so on!  Continue all the way to the right, looping the end onto the corresponding screw on the opposite side from where you started.  To start the next line, do exactly opposite of what you did on the first - under, over, under, over, etc. to the end.  Continue alternating all lines in same fashion.

Once your weaving is complete, it's time to remove your rug!  Starting on the left corner and moving down the left side, pull off the first loop.  Place that loop on the second screw down.  Pull the loop originally on the second screw through the first loop that you just placed in front of it.  Holding onto the second loop, pull both loops off of the screw.  Now, take that second loop (in your hand) and put it onto the third screw down.  Pull the loop already on that screw through the loop you just placed on the screw.  Holding onto that third loop, pull both loops off of the screw. 

Continue pulling loops off the loom in same fashion, all the way around, saving the top for last (so it has a place to hang).  When you get to the very last loop, pull tight, cut open, and weave into rug and tie off so it's secure.

You're done!  Enjoy your new rug!

If you're in the vicinity of Pittsburgh, have some free time and materials, and would like to make a rug of your own, please stop by HackPittsburgh.  The Interactive Rug Loom is installed there, and looking to help people make beautiful rugs!


  1. Thank you for all the great information! I am wanting to make an 8'x10' rug. I am trying to figure out yardage of fabric needed. I plan on purchasing fabric as I think I can get a better deal. It looks like you get 1/4 yd fabric from each t-shirt - maybe. If I am warping a loom 8'x10' with nails one inch apart: Two strips of 50" fabric will make one loop. Therefore, 1 yd fabric will cover 18" of loom. I would need 5+ yds fabric for 8' length and 6+ yds for 10' length. So, 12 yds for entire rug? Or, will fabric thin by stretching making me need twice that much of a solid rug once off loom? Can you help me with me figures? Thank you.

    1. Hi there and thanks for reading!

      Exact fabric measurements for something like this are really tricky. Different materials will stretch and react differently - both lengthwise and in width.

      You'll need tension on the loops. The more tension, the thinner the loops will end up being while on the loom, but also the tighter your weave will be when you take the rug off of the loom. You can also control the thickness by cutting your loops of fabric wider. More width will help make a tighter, thicker rug.

      I see you want to make an 8' x 10' rug - it's important to know that your rug will shrink somewhat when you remove it from the loom due to the tension of the loops while being strung on the loom. I'm estimating about a foot shrinkage in each direction with average tension. So to end up with an 8' x 10' rug, you'll need to make your loom more on the size of 9' x 11', or slightly larger if your tension is on the tighter side, and depending on the stretchability of your fabric.

      I'd recommend buying a small amount of the fabric you'd like to use and doing a test run to see what your stretch and shrinkage rates look like. That'll give you a better idea of how your fabric reacts.

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. I will experiment. I am having a loom built that will be 8'x10' but will break down into two 4'x5' looms for smaller rugs.

  3. Thank you so much for this great tutorial. My daughter and I want to make some rugs for her log cabin and this post has helped us!

  4. Do they have to be individual loops like when buying a small potholder kit? I want to use sheets that have been cut into strips, attached at the ends, to form one long continuous strip. Can I just go back and forth from one side to the other, looping fabric around the screws, all the way down the frame (the warp I think this is called) and then start weaving in and out from the opposite sides, across and around the screws and back again, all the way down the length?

  5. This is a really interesting article. Thanks for taking time to write and post this. I just made a whole set of these looms, starting with a 4x4. The smallest 3 are old wooden picture frames from the charity store, cost nothing at all, the next sizes made from hardwood strips. I wanted to know more about making this larger size, so will be following your instructions! Also, where I live (Nothern Ireland) the local charity shops save me big bags of tee-shirts that aren't good enough for them to sell. they will sell a bag of them really cheaply to me. Terry McComas might try that?

  6. One more thing... has anyone tried to make one of these rugs using pre-felted old woven wool blankets cut into strips? Or don't they have enough 'give'?

  7. David, did you ever try this with the sheets, and if you did, did it work out ok?

  8. Super cool. Quick question...after you cut your shirts into strips, how do you join the strips into one long piece?

    1. Hi Tribal Wife! The sweaters (or Tshirts if that's what you're using) aren't one long strip, they're cut into loops from the "body" of the sweater / shirt. Works much in the same fashion as weaving potholders from the stretchy strips of nylon.

    2. Sorry for my ignorance, but how do you then connect/join the individual loops?

    3. Do a slip knot. (check out Youtube for a visual)

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  10. Mandy,
    These are the best instructions for making a loom that I have managed to find! Thank you so very much for taking the time to share with us. I have two questions, #1 - I see that many people use sweaters to make these looper rugs but don't they all unravel once you cut up the sweater into loops? And #2 - are far do you screw in the screws to the frame? It looks as if you have just barely screwed them in and have the majority of the length outside for putting on loops? Does it matter how far they are drilled in??
    Thanks again for any advice.

    1. Hi Lisa! I'm glad you like the instructions! To answer your questions:
      #1 - The first rug I made with my loom is made of sweaters. If you keep the tension of your loops tight as you're weaving on the loom, that same tension tends to bind the strips pretty tightly when you remove the rug from the loom. I've only had minimal "shedding" from the rugs but no unravelling. Another trick is to throw the whole rug into the washing machine and felt it once it's off the loom.
      #2 - I used really long screws so they would have lots of room available on the tops to weave if I decided to use something really thick. In reality, the screws go nearly all the way through the wood to keep them sturdy when tension is placed on them.
      Hope that helps!

  11. We appreciate your effort in showing and explaining how to be more creative in rug-making. We are Volunteers with Project OSCAR in Zambia. This can improve the lives of our community project beneficiaries a lot, not only for themselves, but they will be able to better their family income and send more children to school.

    1. Hello Edeltraud - this is excellent news and thank you for sharing! Please do let me know if you have any questions on making the loom or using it to create rugs.

  12. Hello! I am having a hard time understanding the process of removing the rug from the loom. Could you add pictures or describe this differently?
    What is the purpose of removing the loops in that order? Will it fall apart if you just take them off the pegs?

    1. Hi Samantha!
      I will try to draw up an image, but for now, maybe words will help?
      I find it easiest to start in one of the upper corners. Pull one loop off of its screw, and place it over the next screw in line. You will now have 2 loops on that screw. Then, pull the bottom loop (that was already on that screw) up through the top loop (that you just put onto that screw) and off of the screw. Then, put the loop in your hand onto the next screw in the row - so what was previously a bottom loop is now a top loop on a new screw. Now, pull that new bottom loop up through the new top loop.... and repeat the process the whole way around.
      Hopefully that helps, but please let me know if not and I'll create a drawing.

  13. Can this loom also be used to make pom pom blankets? The pom pom looms have to have an even amount of nails/ screws on short sides and the longer sides must be an odd number. Does this loom come out the same as far as the number of screws on the sides.